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The ontogeny of courtship behaviours in bat pups (Saccopteryx bilineata)

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In mammals, adult behaviour patterns are often expressed by juveniles throughout ontogeny. In bats, many social behaviours develop before pups are weaned, but the ontogeny of social behaviours in juvenile bats is largely unexplored. We studied bat pups' social behaviour, specifically the solicitations for maternal care in the greater sac-winged bat, Saccopteryx bilineata. Solicitation periods were prolonged (up to 25 min) and consisted of conspicuous behavioural interactions between pups and their mothers. Since solicitation periods could be initiated by pups or mothers, their duration is probably not caused by a conflict over nursing alone. Solicitation periods were the second most prevalent use of activity time in pups. Some pup behaviours resembled the courtship behaviours of adult males and these incipient courtship behaviours occurred most often within solicitation periods. Both length and complexity of solicitation periods increased significantly during ontogeny but there was no significant difference between male and female pups. Also, the activity outside of solicitation periods was not significantly different between pups of both sexes, even though their activity differs remarkably as adults. Prolonged solicitation periods of S. bilineata pups might be comparable to mammalian play and potentially function as practice for adult courtship behaviours.

Affiliations: 1: Prescott College, 220 Grove Avenue, Prescott, AZ 86301, USA; 2: Institute for Zoology, FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg, 91058 Erlangen, Germany; 3: Institute of Experimental Ecology, University of Ulm, 89069 Ulm, Germany;, Email: mirjam.knoernschild@uni-ulm.de

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